Thursday, November 24, 2011

Panettone


Panettone is a sweet bread with pieces of fruit and other goodies in it. A google search brings up articles starting with facts like it is enjoyed at Christmas and New Year's in Italy and it is originally from Milan. It also commonly has this tall round shape with a big muffin top or dome, like an architectural cupola, how Italian, right?

Having only visited Italy in the spring, I do not believe I have ever tasted one... I've seen them in both Italian and American grocery stores, in their cardboard boxes with the picture of the confection on the front. I suppose the thing I know to compare it to is fruitcake, which everyone loves to hate. I don't think I've ever heard or read anything negative about this specialty though. I should try it.


An Italian Panettone

Maybe I should try an imported one, but Panera's Cranberry Walnut Panettone has me intrigued. It looks so good in the store (and in the photo above)! The clear plastic packaging shows off the product. Of course, it's the Panera twist on this "old-world classic" (I"ve yet to see where they specifically mention Italy or France or any other actual country).

This holiday treat is only available at Panera for limited time. It's available now, (for Thanksgiving) from November 22nd through the 24th and then from December 9th through December 24th. I might try it in December... Maybe I could bring it as a dessert for Christmas dinner or have it around here as a special dessert when I have company and maybe a leftover bit as a breakfast... If I do, I'll review it here.
 
~~~~~

I'd also like to send out my warm wishes for a very happy Thanksgiving! (In keeping with the food theme,) I hope it's filled with all of your favorite holiday foods!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Small Business Saturday!


You know that I'm not a fan of Black Friday, but I am a fan of *Small Business Saturday* which is this Saturday, November 26th. It's actually the 2nd Annual one. I believe that small businesses help give a place character. 

They ask for a single purchase and, unfortunately, I'm not sure that I can afford it! Maybe a couple of sheets of paper at the scrapbooking store in the next town over... I haven't been there in months! If I can't "join the movement," I at least wanted to pass the message along. 

Thanksgiving Wishes and Personal Black Friday Boycott

I want to wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. I hope you take at least a moment and think about what you're thankful for. My list is endless, filled with more who's than what's. My apartment home happens to pops into my mind first however.



I am also grateful not to be working in retail this Christmas season. This hasn't happen in ten years, a decade. I was acutely aware of how relaxed I was on November 1st, not to be going into a crazed next couple of months.

I also do not have to work long hours, in the middle of the night, on Black Friday, the famous day for shopping on the day after the American holiday of Thanksgiving. As store manager last year, I was there on and off for the 22-23 hours we were open. Malls also extend their hours for several weeks and not just on this "Black" day.

My boss B recently asked me if I was going out on Black Friday. (After thinking to myself, "With what money?") I replied, with a half laugh, that since I've worked that day for the last decade, I wouldn't want to shop that day for another decade.

Even if they paid me to take an item out of the store, I wouldn't want to enter the chaos and face crowds of people overly concerned with stuff. Plus, hunt an hour for a parking spot. Just doesn't sound like fun to me... I like shopping. I wouldn't want to have a terrible shopping experience. Sometimes the Saturday before Christmas turns out to be the busiest and most profitable shopping day of the year, so beware of that day too.

Stores opening at midnight or before (9 PM!) cut into Thanksgiving, a holiday. Stores are staffed by people. These employees deserve to thoroughly enjoy their Thanksgiving holiday (which, unfortunately, is time off in the middle and not the start of the holiday shopping season) with their loved ones, for a single day. For a midnight store opening, employees have to report earlier, on Thanksgiving night.

In addition, stores often change their sales and promotions during different hours. And then corporate offices want sales numbers reported at specific times. Employees have to deal with all that while dealing with hoards of customers/ guests. I've been there. I still feel for them.

I understand a tradition in going out shopping for some-- in order to spend time with friends and family. And that different hours of operation is different and can be fun or exciting. But, can't this quality time be spent between 10 AM and 9 PM? You can certainly shop 'til you drop during those hours. I am in favor of standard hours of operation. If there's any deviation, give people time off!

The whole Black Friday thing doesn't fall into line with my Italian values. In Italy, they still take a siesta from 1 to 4 each day. And sometimes businesses close on a certain day of the week, or don't come back after lunch on Thursday afternoons. They will take the month of August off for vacation as well! Italy basically shuts down for the month.

A sign reading:
"Closed for the Holidays. From the 8th of August to the 23rd of August. Returning Tuesday, August 24th."

While living in Italy, I had to get used to this siesta. When the vast majority of businesses closed, I had to find something to do! Some stores, like The United Colors of Benetton in my study abroad town I remember, remained open continuously. After I got used to it, I came to like it. With traveling, I found, it's nice to arrive someplace before or after siesta, to arrange around it.

With this time off, Italians show that they value things like the meal, time well spent with loved ones, and even a nap rather than being productive, constantly working and making a buck. It definitely seems more fun in Italy.

I look forward to working my normal shift from 8:30 AM to 5 PM at my non-retail job on Friday. And sleeping until I have to get ready for work. And doing something other than shopping afterward.

Who's with me?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Poverty and Spending Habits

I am really poor. I suppose I would be what you call "house poor." I usually try my best not to complain and I did not intend this blog to be my forum to rant. It's pretty frustrating to be able to just make all your bill payments and have so little left over each paycheck, but... on the other hand, I'm okay with paying my most expensive bill which is rent for my beautiful apartment. I love every single second I'm here. It is so beyond worth it. And I would not trade it to be back at my parents' house for anything. In the spirit of upcoming Thanksgiving, I am so so very grateful.

My Lovely Living Room



You know you're poor when:

- you have more nail polish in your refrigerator than actual food.*
- you're the recipient of a "care package."
- you hear a rumor that you may receive another one from the same person at Thanksgiving dinner.
- you go to the gas station and put a single gallon into your tank.
- you've been living in your apartment for months and have yet to use the building's coin-operated washer.**
- cappuccino and pastry totaling almost $6 strikes you as very expensive and as a very occasional treat.

*It's a beauty secret to store your nail lacquer in the fridge. It makes it last longer and helps so the pigments do not separate. I have five OPI colors (You're a Pisa Work, It's All Greek to Me, Florentine Fuschia, California Raspberry, and Big Apple Red) and one bottle of clear Top Coat. At $8.50 a pop, I'd like for it to last 'til  the last drop! The food part excludes condiments and bottles of water.

**I use my parents' for free!



See? Pretty poor. I'm looking forward to December where I'll have three paydays instead of two. Plus, my boss at our two person office is four months along with a very at-risk pregnancy so I'll be taking over things and more hours 'til like summer. I can't wait to have savings again so I can have peace of mind. Plus alittle more food... Like any Italian, I love to eat! And to renew my driver's license with my new address and my passport (it's been almost a decade!). Those fees are expensive!

I thought I was being frugal in saving for six months prior to my trip to Italy! Frugality has really entered my thought process now! Even with that said, however, I am (still) fundamentally a spender, not a saver. (I know I am primarily of the "rewards" variety too. You know... I work hard, so I deserve it.) When I have alittle money, I think "What could I do/buy today?" When it's a lot, I do see it or a portion of it as "real" savings. I see and understand how little things add up in spending though, a la "the latte factor." I wonder if I'll ever turn into a saver with time... Nonetheless, I know these lessons like living without so much and this questioning of every single purchase will serve me well in life.

I truly believe that life is what you make it. And that bored people are boring. I haven't been out too too much (with going out being the more expensive option), but I haven't really felt deprived. I manage to have a good time. My recent vacation being an excellent example of that! Nonetheless, with money, it'll be nice to go out again... I love going out! It'll make for more interesting reading here! For now, stay with me! I still have ideas for future posts!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Weekend Activities

Here's to Nights Out!

I had a first date Saturday night, and it was really fun. We went out to dinner at a very nice restaurant and then we decided to have a drink in its bar. Unbeknownst to us, it was karoke night and we arrived just in time. I didn't sing, but truly love live music and thoroughly enjoyed listening, ...even if half of it was country music (which is not my favorite). Some of the singers were especially entertaining. Oh and one guy sang "Sweet Caroline" and I thought of my college friends since it's our song. (Don't judge. LOL!) We even danced, pushing tables out of the way to create a dance floor. It was such a great crowd of fun-loving people... Hours flew by like minutes! It was great to be on a date, so great to be out and to stumble upon something great. I realize that the bigger story here is the guy, not the activities, ...and he's not the one for me.

While doing laundry at my parents on Sunday afternoon, I watched "Crazy, Stupid, Love" since they had it for 24 hours on their Fios and recommended it. And I really liked it! How come I didn't see this before? I also went back to my parents' for a delicious steak dinner later. After that, my friend M came over and we just hung out for a few hours. I love having my own apartment and being able to have people over!

This upcoming Friday, I'm starting my weekend off right by going out to dinner with my friend and old co-worker D. To one of my favorite places, a local spot serving up the best pit beef sandwiches! Our go-to restaurant closed, so maybe, hopefully, this one'll replace it. My all-time favorite sandwich and a cold beer with a guy friend, I can't wait. He calls himself my brother. This brother of mine and I usually go out to eat maybe like once a season? So it'll be good to catch up. I just can't wait to go out again! On my budget, it just hasn't been happening as much as I'd like. I love going out. It's evident here that I truly appreciate when I do, when it's not so often.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Vacation Days 3, 4, and 5

My vacation's almost over as I have to be back at work tomorrow. I've had a really great time!

Here are some highlights...

Where in the World is Matt Lauer? on the Today Show started this week. I've liked Tuesday's and Thursday's destinations best so far-- Madrid, Spain and the Jungfraujoch of Switzerland (which is on top of the peak, the Jungfrau, in the Alps). I love culture... Anyway, while I was getting ready today, I started humming something to myself and then I realized it was the theme song of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? I was in elementary school when this children's TV game show was on during the early 90s.

I had a friend over for dinner on Tuesday. I made baked chicken breasts and smashed red skin potatoes.

Finished a really good book on Wednesday. I simply had a pretty chill day.

Today, my friend E and I strolled the historic Main Street, West Street and Maryland Avenue of nearby Annapolis, Maryland. Both of us have been looking forward to this outing because we adore Annapolis. We browsed many of the interesting shops and cute boutiques of these streets. It's difficult to pick our favorites among these fabulous stores of mainly artisanal products, but we liked the import stores best. Like the Italian ceramic and French linen shop called Plat du Jour and the Irish imports store (formally known as Avoca, I believe). We skipped all of the souvenir shops. Both of us didn't purchase all that much, but still thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. E can now check her mom off her Christmas shopping list. I only came away with a few postcards. We also had the most delicious french dips for lunch at McGarvey's near the harbor. I highly recommend a trip to this charming capital city.


After that, we decided to head over to a local shopping center called the Annapolis Harbour Center. We enjoyed decadent chocolate desserts at the Barnes and Noble cafe and then browsed the stores of the strip mall. I bought a couple of cards and a package of Christmas cards I'd been wanting for awhile at the Hallmark there. (I'm a Hallmark-aholic.)

I'm not ready for this vacation to be over! I suppose I have a few hours 'til I have to go to sleep!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Vacation Day Number 2

I ended up watching five episodes of How I Met Your Mother last night. I love that show. I love the type of humor-- where they name ideas and come up with rules for each scheme. I feel like I want to quote the show in real life. I also enjoy their friendship, the way Lily seems to know everything about the group or is usually right, and Ted's commitment to finding the love of his life. For being such a fan, I really don't watch it much. In fact, I've only seen one of those five episodes before! It does come on Mondays at primetime though, so perhaps I'll catch the episode tonight...

I had a pretty good day today too, Vacation day Number 2. I enjoyed some hot chocolate and read a bit this morning at Starbucks (I've accounted for them all here, that's number 3, and I just can't afford any more for awhile!) while I had some laundry in the wash at my parents'. My mom generously bought me an artificial Christmas tree (Just $19.99 at Michael's Arts and Crafts!). She was actually disappointed at how small the four foot tree actually was on display, in person. I, on the other hand, loved the size. I was considering one of those metal ornament holders which max out at 6 to 8 ornaments. I just don't need a big tree when I currently live in a one bedroom apartment and don't want a big family living in a single family home gathering around a big tree in the future. I feel that this is more European than American of me. It came in a small box with a convenient handle so I can store and move with it easily. This one comes pre-lit with white lights. I do love Christmas trees overall and am happy to have picked this one up today. I'm all about giving and decorating. Taking it a beautiful and lit tree at Christmastime during a quiet time is always something I remember each year. I bought a star, red tree skirt and red ornaments while living in my apartment in Philadelphia. I just hope the scale of these things isn't too off! Truly believing in the "one in, one out" decluttering philsophy, with this new addition, I donated two bags of holiday decorations to the Salvation Army. I may donate more if I have way too many ornaments for such a small tree. In Philadelphia, I borrowed my family's 6 foot tree while they enjoyed a real tree that year and then decorated it on quite the budget. I was happy to have it up during my Christmas party I threw. That was fun and just what we needed at the end of a long semester.

I love the white owl ornament that I found on Kate's blog, Une Vie Chic!
I subsequently pinned to one of my Pinterest boards.
It's available at Crate & Barrel

One of the highlights of my afternoon was reading a book on my balcony. However, I would love to invest in better patio furniture. Right now I have two white plastic chairs and a small glass top table I scored dirt cheap at Target. I was sitting in one chair with my feet on the other and wasn't uncomfortable but I could just be much more comfy lounging in something else, something that costs more than a single digit of dollars. They were with me in Philly too. To go with those new lounge chairs or loveseat arrangement, I could also have my favorite flower, dark pink azaleas planted in a big terra cotta pot... They bloom at the time of my birthday you know. I also whipped up a dozen chocolate chip cookies from the Betty Crocker mix this afternoon.

I made myself my signature dish for dinner. Penne pasta with a tomato basil sauce with sauteed vegetables. Casually, the vegetables are usually red pepper and zucchini  and this was no exception. I treated myself to a bottle of cheap Chianti too. Anyway, it really turned out well. Even though I've made this dish on many ordinary and memorable occasions, it always takes me back to learning how to make it with my German roommates in our apartment in Pescara, Italy, during my study abroad experience in 2005. I still think of their instructions despite doing things my own way now.

My Specialty: Penne Pasta with Tomato Basil Sauce and Sauteed Red Pepper and Zucchini

...and the night is still young! Maybe a facial mask and pedicure over a chick flick AKA a "Michelle Movie?"

I'm thoroughly enjoying myself, but life is best shared, and the remainder of my vacation should be much more social!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

*Vacation Days*

I'm using three or four vacation days this week before they expire at year end. I have to say that with the extra hour of sleep from Daylight Savings Time ending, my vacation started off pretty well.

After an errand and browsing Home Goods while waiting for the library to open today, I hit the library for a stack of books to enjoy all vacation long and then stopped by Starbucks for their delicious, decadent hot chocolate. (I know this is mentioned two posts in a row; I'm addicted.) My afternoon was interrupted by my Carbon Monoxide detector going off, but luckily I have connections working on the property and stresslessly called the maintenance guy right over. Perhaps this is a sign that I should spend some time outside of my apartment...

J's Photo of the Fancy Hot Chocolate at Cafe Florian in Venice

You would think that lover of travel that I am, I would go away during my vacation time, but, unfortunately, with bills, I am so very poor until next paycheck, that I simply cannot afford it. On Thursday, however, I am getting out of town though, if only to Annapolis, the next town over. The city has a lovely 18th Century Main Street, full of restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. A friend and I are strolling down it that afternoon. I'm excited. If I have out-of-town friend visiting or a big event to celebrate, I often go to Annapolis. I think that's the only day of the week when rain is forecasted, oh well...

View of Main Street from the Italian Restaurant Piccola Roma

In addition to reading and my daytrip, I have to figure out fabulous ways to spend the rest of my vacation! Without spending any money... I have already arranged for some friends to come over a couple of evenings. Maybe I can catch a How I Met Your Mother marathon on TV... (Legendary! LOL) I love that show yet rarely watch it... Not that I watch a lot of TV anyway. Or maybe I'll rent that new Ryan Reynolds/ Jason Bateman movie when it comes out on Tuesday. I love them both. The Change Up? Something like that. Has anyone seen it? Is it any good? Rentals are low cost. I would also love to walk on the bike trail in this beautiful fall weather we're having. Having gone to the grocery store last night, I have a few things to bake and I love baking and now cooking. In fact, I baked Crescents filled with chocolate chips already. I'm sure I'll think up plenty and have a fun yet relaxing vacation.

Here's to my vacation! Cin cin!